Jurisprudence

We Now Know Exactly What the Trump-Backed Arizona “Audit” Is Going to Do

A woman leans her head into her hand in apparent frustration as she sits in front of a blue Lazy Susan on a table. Two other older people sit at the table.
Contractors working for Cyber Ninjas, which was hired by the Arizona Senate, examine and recount ballots from the 2020 general election at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix on May 1. Courtney Pedroza/Getty Images

On Thursday, Arizona Senate President Karen Fann offered the public its clearest picture yet of the monthslong audit of Maricopa County’s election, holding a hearing with auditor, Cyber Ninjas CEO, and Hugo-Chavez-somehow-corrupted-the-2020-election-despite-being-dead conspiracy theorist Doug Logan.

Logan, whose work pretending to hand-tabulate the ballots and checking for bamboo fibers in ballot paper ended three weeks ago, offered very little about what his “recount” and “forensic analysis” had uncovered. He instead said that he had much work still to do and that he would save his “irrefutable” evidence for his final report. Logan is asking the state Senate to issue further subpoenas to the Republican-dominated Maricopa County Board of Supervisors (who have come to see the audit as a dangerous “circus”) and to let him go ahead with a countywide canvass that the U.S. Department of Justice has warned might violate federal law. Indeed, the only other Republican senator taking part in the hearing, Judiciary Committee Chairman Warren Petersen, made a show of repeatedly insisting that unless Logan is given what he wants, the audit will be “incomplete.”*

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

In other words, not much came out of the hearing except the likelihood that, as has been clear for months, the audit will be revealed as a haphazard attempt to cloud the 2020 election results for Arizona’s most populous county in doubt. What did come out, however, was plenty for Donald Trump.

Immediately, the former president urged auditors to release Logan’s report right away and used the hearing to prop up his big lie that the election was stolen, claiming falsely that the “irregularities revealed at the hearing today amount to hundreds of thousands of votes or, many times what is necessary for us to have won.” Like all of the little lies that feed the big one, the “irregularities” that Logan and the lawmakers raised were almost immediately debunked on social media, where experts quickly pointed out that audit officials were blowing up totally normal election activity and misreading numbers to falsely insinuate impropriety.

Advertisement

Why was all of this even happening? Trump lost Arizona by the narrowest of margins back in November, and it has become a sort of talisman in his quest to convince America that the election was stolen from him. Despite numerous risk-limiting partial audits that suggested Arizona’s election results to be flawless and opposition from members of their own party, Arizona’s Senate Republican leadership decided to go ahead with an audit to appease Trump. We have no idea who’s paying for it and who the 1,500 volunteers and 200 paid staff who conducted the audit were, but we do know MAGA-world has been fundraising for it and that it is being helmed by a conspiracy theorist, Logan.

Advertisement
Advertisement

The breadcrumbs that Logan, Petersen, and Fann laid out in the hearing were enough to preview what is likely in store when Logan releases his report in the weeks ahead.* Without specifically challenging the vote count, Logan spent much of the hearing dropping outrageous-sounding numbers of suspicious vote tallies to insinuate fraud without actually proving anything. This appears to be Logan’s ultimate game plan, straight out of the Kraken playbook: Drop dozens of disproven or easily disprovable charges into a report, claim there is a massive cover-up of election fraud, and wave his hands at the big picture even as his charges are easily shown, one by one, to be lies.

Advertisement

The hearing came as the audit is under renewed public scrutiny, arriving one day after the U.S. House Oversight Committee announced it would be investigating the audit and the same day as an Arizona judge declared that Logan’s audit materials were subject to Freedom of Information Act requests.

Advertisement

The hearing started with a bizarre, infomercial-like presentation of the work Logan had been doing by Kim Carpenter, a former county executive who had been managing training sessions for the audit. Carpenter opened by praising as “incomparable” “the transparency, the accountability, the integrity, and the overall chain of custody” of his own work on the audit. The video was such fluff that Carpenter literally bragged—perhaps unintentionally—that his words were empty jargon meant to impress without holding any substance.

Advertisement

“Buzzwords were often used, such as integrity, accountability, chain of custody, beyond reproach, and transparency,” Carpenter said, describing the audit effort. “And this was the culture that was developed for anyone that stepped in this building.”

Ironically, Carpenter’s “buzzword” description is actually one of the main critiques of the audit: that inexperienced auditors were grabbing onto hollow jargon in order to make it seem like they knew what they were doing while using bizarre and entirely invented processes that were almost designed to lead to errors.

Advertisement

“It almost feels like these have become buzzwords, that folks have decided if we say audit, if we say chain of custody, it means we’re doing the right thing, without recognizing that you can’t just say it and it is the thing,” elections expert, former local election official, and audit observer Jennifer Morrell told me back in May.

After showing the buzzword video, Logan was basically like, See, this audit is entirely on the up and up, case closed, and he described his work as godly for good measure.

Advertisement

“That just gives a brief overview of our heart in doing all of this,” Logan said. “We’ve tried to design everything to implement the biblical concept of ‘beyond reproach’ so that we would not even have the appearance of evil in anything that we did.” (“Beyond reproach” being one of the buzzwords Logan’s group had just declared it was proud of.)

Advertisement
Advertisement

That same video also included a “training” slide that showed that Logan had instructed his audit workers and volunteers to report ballots that were folded as suspicious, a practice that flies in the face of common sense and one that audit liaison Ken Bennett initially denied to me was occurring when I asked him about it at the audit site in May. After looking at the training slide, Morrell confirmed to me that the workers were being trained to make multiple bad assumptions about suspicious ballots that were not suspicious at all.

“They are making assumptions about the integrity of the ballot based on folds and machine marks,” Morrell, who observed the audit on behalf of Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, told me. “They assume ballots cast in person shouldn’t be folded and no ballot should appear to be marked by a machine. Maricopa uses a system for ballot duplication that essentially creates machine-marked ballots.” As Morrell explained to me in May, voters fold ballots however they want, and assuming that a folded ballot is suspicious and labeling it as such is a way to create doubt over nothing.

Advertisement

Perhaps more troubling was the implication, repeated throughout the hearing, that Logan’s work is not complete and won’t be complete until he is allowed to subpoena more materials from the county or do a countywide canvass of voters, which the Department of Justice has warned the Arizona Senate could violate federal laws against voter intimidation.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

To back up this need for further auditing, Logan cited a number of extraordinary claims that were either immediately refuted by county officials or debunked by local election experts. For instance, Logan claimed that the county had stopped doing signature verification on mail-in ballots, claiming “eventually they were just told to let every single mail-in ballot through.”

Almost immediately, the office of Maricopa County’s Republican county recorder, Stephen Richer, tweeted: “At no point during the 2020 election cycle did Maricopa County modify the rigorous signature verification requirements. Any suggestion to the contrary is categorically false.”

Advertisement

After the event, Maricopa County’s Republican chairman of the board of supervisors, Jack Sellers, released a statement saying that Logan had given false and misleading information throughout the hearing.

“It’s clear the people hired by Arizona Senate leadership to supposedly bring integrity to our elections are instead just bringing incompetence,” Sellers said. “At today’s briefing, the Senate’s uncertified contractors asked a lot of open-ended questions, portraying as suspicious what is actually normal and well known to people who work in elections. In some cases, they dropped bombshell numbers that are simply not accurate. What we heard today represents an alternate reality that has veered out of control since the November General Election.”

Advertisement

Indeed, some of those alternative-reality numbers that Logan presented sounded astonishing, but were almost immediately debunked.

Advertisement

Logan claimed, for instance, that “we have 74,243 mail-in ballots where there is no clear record of them being sent” to people in the mail. As local ABC News politics and data analyst Garrett Archer almost immediately reported, the number Logan cited to make this allegation was actually a combination of mail ballots and in-person early ballots, which of course would not have been sent to anyone in the mail. This basic conflation was the most eye-popping claim of the hearing and led to Trump’s allegation that “hundreds of thousands of votes” were in dispute.

Advertisement

Logan also claimed with an almost sheepish, gotcha grin that there were 11,326 people who didn’t show up on the voter rolls on Nov. 7 who later appeared on the final voter rolls on Dec. 4. “I cannot think of a logical explanation of why that would be,” he declared.

Advertisement

Steal proven!

Except—no. There was a logical explanation that Archer tweeted out, almost immediately: The voter rolls would appear different between these two dates if the ballots in question were “received and processed on election day,” because ballots received on Election Day are not part of the count in question.

“This is common with…every…county…in…Arizona and has been since the data became available over a decade ago,” Archer wrote.

On this and other already litigated and debunked myths, Logan is seeking to extend the audit indefinitely while Trump is claiming victory.

As Jack Sellers indicated, though, Arizona’s auditors will face a steep challenge if they think they’re going to get any more information out of Maricopa County voluntarily, in order to mangle it.

“To Senate leaders I say, stop accusing us of not cooperating when we have given you everything qualified auditors would need to do this job,” his statement concluded. “Finish your audit, release the report, and be prepared to defend it in Court.”

Correction, July 16, 2021: This piece originally misspelled Warren Petersen’s last name.

Advertisement